December 02, 2023

Check-row planting once the norm

RANTOUL, Ill. — A planting technique that dates back to the mid-1800s and continued through the early 1950s when technologies pushed it to the wayside will be featured at the Half Century of Progress Show.

The check-row planting display and demonstration will include a working planter and cultivation in corn that was planted in July to enable visitors to see the unique row patterns.

Before the development of herbicide technologies, check-row planting was a common practice to keep the weeds at a minimum through crisscross cultivation.

Check-row planters were guided by wires across the field. The wires, typically quarter-mile in length, were anchored by stakes at each end and moved as the planter finished each row.

There were small notches in the wires and as they went through the planter a seed would drop with each notch.

A field of check-row-planted corn had the appearance of a checkerboard, with a hill of corn stalks at the exact intersection of each line.

That made it possible to cultivate the rows in several directions and made it much easier to keep a field free of weeds.

Ken Kocher, of Thomasboro, will once again feature his 1945 Oliver 60 Row Crop with mounted 1012-D four-row planter. He’ll be demonstrating cultivating and planting throughout the show.

Kocher typically plants the corn for his display about four or five weeks before the show, depending on the rain.

“I’ve been watering it. I’ve got to water it to get it to grow sometimes,” Kocher said. “I think this is about my eighth time at the Half Century of Progress. I picked corn there before that. I’ve been involved in the show for quite a while.”

It took Kocher about 10 years to find this particular 38-inch-row spacing planter similar to what his family used on the farm.

Most planters at the time had 40-inch-row spacing, making Kocher’s unique. He’s been collecting classic Oliver equipment for about 20 years.

“We had our own farm and I got interested in having the things like we had at home on the farm. The planter and the tractor that I have are like what we had a home,” he said.

“I was going to shows all around and it took me a long, long time to find that planter because most of them got junked.

“They used check-row planting down south later than they did up here. It was done down there up until the early 1950s or real late 1940s because the one I have is a 1945.

“My dad used it and I used to go out and help him pull stakes, which I couldn’t hardly do because I was a little kid. It was always kind of neat and after we started doing these shows I thought this was something I’d like to find that we had a home.

“It took a while to find the stakes and everything else for it. I got interested probably 30 years ago and it took a long time to find it.”

Kocher enjoys sharing the history of the check-row planting technique with thousands of visitors that will see the display and demonstrations.

“The older people really get into it. They know what it is and a lot of them have had done it. They come back every year to see me and they keep bringing more of their family with them,” he said.

“That’s when a farmer worked. You had to move the wire. You had to get everything set right. It wasn’t just jumping on the tractor, putting on auto-steer and go.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor